As a Republican staffer in 1996, engaged to her future husband. she helped write the Defense Of Marriage Act. Now, divorced and ‘out of the closet,’ she is still a Republican stalwart but is lobbying to repeal DOMA.
Back in calmer times — when Jack Kennedy was President and gasoline was 29 cents a gallon — I enlisted in the Navy for the second time, hoping for a career that had been interrupted 10 years before due to my dad’s rapidly declining health. After the swearing-in in Jacksonville, Florida, I was sent to Charleston, South Carolina for a couple weeks of re-indoctrination training, which consisted of additional physical exams, skills testing and clothing issue – sea bag issue, as it was known back then.
It was late autumn of 1960. I had experienced a “Navy winter” in Groton, Connecticut in 1949-’50 and found out that ice and snow weren’t really that great. I certainly wasn’t ready for a fast climate change, and I was imagining getting sent to Great Lakes, Illinois, or Bangor, Maine, or possibly Kodiak Alaska. But my orders said to Report to Commanding Officer, Waterfront Division, Florida Group Atlantic Reserve Fleet, at Green Cove Springs, Florida.
I had very little knowledge of what a “Reserve Fleet” was, or what I’d be doing there, but I was fairly certain it would beat shoveling show and chipping ice. With those frightening thoughts still in mind, I didn’t mind getting off the Greyhound bus in a chilly Florida rain in Green Cove Springs with another raw recruit who had been my bus-mate on the ride down from Charleston. A Navy vehicle was waiting for us, and we found the evening meal was ready about the time we finished checking in at the quarterdeck and taking our sea bags to our assigned barracks.
After getting nutritionally replenished at the Mess Hall, I returned to the barracks and began to unpack my sea bag into my assigned locker. I also began learning what a Reserve Fleet was. While I was unpacking my clothing issue I mentioned to another guy in the barracks, the first sailor I really had a chance to talk to since my arrival, how lucky I considered myself to not be spending the winter shoveling snow and chipping ice. He said he had been in Green Cove for a couple months, looked at the two tiny E-2 stripes beneath the radioman insignia on my sleeve and said, “Buddy, I hate to tell you this, but we got no radiomen on the St. Johns River waterfront. What we do have is about 350 old mothballed Navy ships dressed in faded gray paint. You don’t want to chip ice, huh? Guess what you’ll be chipping for the next year.”
The following morning, a Tuesday I believe, I gathered with about 200 other guys dressed in dungarees. We marched from the barracks, across Highway 17 to the river. At 8:00 AM we were lined up in neat rows on the waterfront dock, with quite a few acres of mothballed ships and the St. Johns River behind us. The Chief Bo’sun gave us two minutes of building a fire under our butts and we were then divided into teams of five or six non-rated men and one Petty Officer.
Each group was assigned to a different ship to wire brush, chip, sweat and complain until the Petty Officer was satisfied with our particular spot, and then we were given the privilege of painting our completed area — maybe a watertight exterior door or two – and perhaps even part of the adjoining bulkhead if we had worked really hard. After about seven-and-a-half hours, including the 250 yard walk to the Mess Hall and back for those of us who didn’t know to bring some cookies or Twinkies with us, we were allowed to march back to the barracks.
Anyone who has been in the military service, or has heard much from folks who have, know the one thing that a non-rated serviceman should NEVER do is speak or move if the petty officer or officer in charge of a group says, “I have a special detail for one man. Do I have a volunteer?” The Waterfront Commander himself asked that question at muster the next morning. No one even breathed, except me, and I used a whole lungful of air to raise my arm and yell, “Here, Sir!”
Commander Raymond then asked, “Do you know how to type?”
“Yes, Sir!” I responded, feeling better about this volunteering thing already. I knew whatever he had in mind had to be better than chipping paint. Thankfully, it turned out much better than I could have imagined.
I’ll try to post a little more of this story at least once a week. At this particular time, however, I feel a nap coming on.